April 26, 2024

Julie Perrin

Taupe and Teal

When my mother was in her 80s, still spry and keen for a car trip, I took her to Tasmania.

We stayed in a quaint cottage in a village outside Launceston. There were several artists in the family who owned the cottage, and you could see an artist’s eye influencing the choices of deep colour and texture in the finishes. My mother sighed with satisfaction and made little cries of delight at each new detail and beautiful alignment. Her own childhood had included years of couch surfing and insecure housing, and she carried from that time a passionate loyalty to colour and beauty that could make even the barest of places into a home. Mum told the story of her mother, upholstering fruit boxes with cheerful cotton material as a gesture towards homemaking. 

My mother’s income was always modest, but through my childhood she deployed a determined skill in tracking down second-hand furnishings, and a deep awareness of colour that involved separating the threads in a carpet to exactly identify colour combinations, or taking samples of linoleum from shop to shop to find the right curtain material that ‘toned in’.

On the last day of our Tasmanian holiday, my mother declared that we needed to return to Deloraine—the perfect destination offering three opportunity shops as well as picturesque views.

“There’s a shop we missed and I want to find a taupe jacket to go with my teal jumper.”

Taupe, it turned out, is a mushroom shade of beige, a colour with the depth and personality to speak into my mother‘s life-long conversation with colour. It seemed only right that she did indeed find a taupe jacket to go with her teal jumper, in the final op shop in Deloraine.

During the trip my mother had told me that in the year following Dad’s death, secondhand clothes shopping had been a kind of balm for her.

“I could go when I was lonely, and the women in the stores were almost always friendly. Nobody really knew me and we just chatted about colour and clothes.” In this way, I could see the privacy of her grief. Amidst all the ways in which she was candid about her sorrow, here was her own gesture towards anonymity.

It’s four years now since Mum died. I recently found a blessing by the Irish poet John O’Donohue, which I wish I could’ve given to her in that year after Dad’s death. 

And when your eyes
freeze behind 
the grey window
and the ghost of loss 
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green 
and azure blue
come to awaken in you 
a meadow of delight.

from Beannacht / Blessing,
John O’Donohue, 2010

Julie Perrin has 30 years experience as an oral storyteller and writer. She has a background in arts education and established Tellingwords in 2007. Julie lives on Wurundjeri land in the inner north of Melbourne. Her creative non-fiction stories are published in Australian magazines and newspapers—The Age, The Big Issue, Dumbo Feather and Eureka Street, and short story collections. Her book a prayer, a plea, a bird (2020) is published by MediaCom. Tender, stories that lean into kindness, was published in 2019. Julie was runner-up for the Victorian Writers Centre Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writer’s prize for non-fiction in 2015, and is a graduate of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. Her stories are about local neighbourhoods ancient customs and people hidden from view. They concern the connection between creatures and humans and the holy in the ordinary. In 2011 Julie won the Pat Glover Storytelling Award at Port Fairy Folk Festival.